The US Securities and Exchange Commission said last week that Total had agreed to pay $398 million to settle charges of violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), part of a joint investigation with French prosecutors.
Chief executive Christophe de Margerie told LCI television he could not comment on the US result but did speak to the French verdict in his first public comments since the announcement, Bloomberg reported.
“What we did wasn’t illegal according to French law,” de Margerie said according to the news wire.
“We didn’t pay bribes, we didn’t pay Iranian authorities. Our contracts weren’t illegal.”
A Paris prosector, amid an ongoing investigation into which charges were also filed, previously said de Margerie should face trial in the alleged corruption matter.
The SEC had alleged that $60 million in bribes were paid to government officials to help grease the wheels of a 1995 contract with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) to develop the Sirri A and E oil and gas fields.
The SEC claims that Total set up a bogus “consulting agreement” with a government intermediary whose true purpose was to help tip the proceedings in its favour.
The company eventually reaped $150 million in profits afterwards, the SEC said.
At the time the Sirri project was viewed as a coup by Total and 30% partner Petronas of Malaysia, with the partnership landing the deal amid competition with Iranian firms.
Total was among the first players into Iran after the 1979 revolution and remained active long after sanction pressure came to bear from US sources.
But it had soured on the market by 2010 after negotiations fell apart for the Pars LNG-Phase 11 project.
It is not the first time de Margerie has faced similar scrutiny over Iran projects.
The former Middle East boss, was among executives was arrested by French authorities in 2010 in connection with alleged kickbacks tied to a 1997 buy-back contract to develop phases 2 & 3 of the giant South Pars gas field.
*Kathrine Schmidt, Upstreamonline